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Figure Skating

Learn about this Winter Olympic sport

January 10, 2014
VINCENZO PINTO—AFP/GETTY IMAGES

 

Figure skating as we know it got its start in the mid-19th century, when an American named Jackson Haines combined dancing and skating for the first time. Americans did not accept Haines's technique, so he moved to Vienna, Austria, where he was an immediate success. Some 50 years later, Haines's style finally caught on in the United States.

Figure skating became an Olympic sport before there were Winter Games. Events for pairs and singles first appeared at the London 1908 Summer Games. Ice dancing joined the Olympics in 1976, when the Games were held in Innsbruck, Austria.

The Rules of the Game

In singles skating, each skater performs a short routine of required steps, jumps, spins, and combinations, as well as a longer free-skating routine. The pairs event follows the same format, but with one male and one female performing together.

Ice dance is performed by one male and one female, too. But unlike pairs skating, ice dance does not include overhead lifts and jumps. An ice dance competition is made up of three parts: one set to music that has a required rhythm and tempo, and two parts set to whatever music the ice dancers choose.

A panel of nine judges scores the quality of each figure skating performance, but only seven out of nine scores are used. To determine which judges' scores will be used, there is a random draw before each event. Skaters are given a grade for each step, jump, spin, or any other element that is part of their routine. They also receive an "overall" score for each performance. The person or team with the highest total score is the winner.

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